The Year Long Genius Hour for Teachers

After one year as an instructional technologist I thought to myself, if I went back into the classroom now, I would be a rock star teacher.

Photo of Eric Patnoudes
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After being tasked with providing teachers with training and professional learning when I worked in the schools, it became apparent right away that finding the time in a teacher's day to do so was nearly impossible. However, when my primary responsibility was teaching teachers, I discovered so many amazing things that I couldn't wait to share. It was quite frustrating to have a wealth of valuable information to share, and nearly no time to share it with teachers.

It was after one year as an instructional technologist that I thought to myself, if I went back into the classroom right now, I would be a rock star teacher. That's when I came up with this idea.

A single teacher from a school will be selected based on their track record of excellence in education. They will be given one year away from the classroom with the goal of allowing them to recharge their battery, and pursue personal learning opportunities on anything they want. Each school would have a permanent sub to take the teacher's place on a yearly basis.

Teachers selected for this program are expected to attend conferences, network with thought leaders, read books, watch TED Talks, participate in MOOCs, blog, moderate Twitter chats, listen to/make podcasts or anything that can justifiably be considered as professional learning. They will be given complete autonomy to explore their passion and interests related to the teaching profession. Nobody in the district can dictate what topics will be selected, how it is to be learned or a time frame for doing so. 

The only stipulation is that the some type of product be produced as a result of their exploration and they share what they've learned with the teachers, administration and community of their district through blogging, training and professional learning opportunities on a regular basis. 

After the one year commitment, the teacher will resume their role as a classroom teacher. And a new teacher will be selected to take their place.

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Photo of Moss Pike

Fantastic post, Eric; thanks for your reflections! I absolutely love the idea, in that it combines teacher leadership with some of the genius-time ideas shared on TG so far. In particular, I'm very interested in considering how the role you've created could be involved in coaching and giving feedback to other teachers. Do you see it involving mentorship of this sort by teaching the community more about the genius-hour idea through the project they're required to create? How might we combine some of the ideas below to work out a prototype for an idea like this? I think there's a lot of value and potential to explore in our "Ideate" phase and hope to help out, if I can!

Eliana Johnson on 20% time:

Walt Hays on content-specific time:

Heather Tyler on coaching (via Emily Miller):

Photo of Eric Patnoudes

Thank you for the feedback, Moss. I think there are many directions this type of mentorship could go. In my mind, this role less about the concept of "genius hour" and teaching that concept to other teachers. However, I'm certainly not opposed to that being part of the larger conversation.

I'm particularly interested in the topic of motivation in terms of the conditions that need to be present to get people to take action. In this instance, when I became an instructional technologist, I had much greater autonomy and time to learn based on what I thought was interesting and also beneficial for other teachers to understand when effectively integrating technology into the classroom.

In my mind, my skills grew exponentially over the course of just one year because I had the time needed to network with thought leaders, reflect on my own practices and experiment in a low risk environment. As a result, I felt re-energized, enthusiastic and extremely confident in what I learned.

The downside was that I was given very little time to share any of this with teachers and often got push back from teachers who would say things like, "Yeah, but you're not in the classroom anymore. You don't teach these kids and those ideas are cool, but they won't work for me."

I like to imagine what would have happened had gone back into the classroom after that one year and had the chance to apply what I learned. There's no telling what the results would have been, but I'm always the optimist and think the findings would be pretty stellar.

I want replicate that experience by rewarding an exemplar teacher and giving them a one year "working sabbatical" if you will, where the teacher gets to learn purely based on what motivates them and the autonomy and time to do so. As mentioned above, in return they will share what they've learned within the district through blogging and professional development. After 12 months, they return to the classroom a... new teacher full of enthusiasm, new ideas and creative confidence.

I also picture that over time, the teachers who are selected to participate in this program form an advisory board or think tank of sorts responsible for being a resource to new entrants to the program. They would also collaborate with other think tanks in the region, do R&D and well... I could go on and on and hope you see where I'm going with this.

I think one of the crucial aspects of this program is that teachers get selected based on a track record of pedagogical excellence and this program is a reward for their hard work. Therefore, setting the bar in a school for teachers to strive for pedagogical excellence if they desire one year away from the classroom full of autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Sorry for the lengthy response! I have a lot of ideas in my head about this and hope to leverage the collective intelligence of this group to find a way to make this work.

Photo of Moss Pike

Love the detail in the response, Eric! And I'm very interested in the idea, given that I've also seen the sort of pushback you mention toward those not in the classroom. I've thus been wondering how to bring together classroom teachers with other educators whose role is outside the classroom, and I think this idea can help. It almost sounds like a teacher certification program similar to Google's "Innovator" programs, in which teachers are selected on merit to then go through the program. And the program itself isn't as much about the learning that happens in it but rather what happens afterward, including making use of the connections made through it. In other words, it takes a sort of "viral" approach toward spreading the value of professional growth. I could go on and on, too, and I'll be looking forward to continuing the conversation!

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